Spanish Cave

Pete and Randy Outside the Entrance to Spanish Cave
Pete and Randy Outside the Entrance to Spanish Cave

The first weekend of August, Pete Bronski and I headed up into the mountains to visit the much ballyhooed Spanish Cave. Rumors of Spanish gold and forced slavery have surround this cave, but over the years, all of these have been shown false. Nevertheless, the cave has earned a reputation for being tremendously dangerous and intensely cold with bone-chilling winds. Given these realities and the need for some technical ropework within the cave, we were both quite happy to be teaming up with a couple of other experienced cavers, Randy Macan and Paul Mozal.

Paul was planning to head up to the campsite the previous evening, and Randy would join us late Friday night after driving all the way from Fort Collins. Pete and I left Boulder at around 8:00 in the morning and we had a relaxing 4-hour drive before we started the hike towards the cave. Not long after hitting the 4WD portion of South Colony Lakes Road, we found the parking pullout. We grabbed a little lunch before hefting on our packs and beginning the hike. The hike began on well marked trails, but we quickly turned off onto a climber’s trail. After losing the trail a couple of times and debating our route, we popped out of the trees and made a bee-line for the limestone.

Finding the entrance to Spanish Cave was pretty easy, but locating the campsite proved much harder. It turns out we were way too high on the mountain, yet we didn’t want to lose altitude because we knew we’d have to hike back up in the morning. This caused us to spend a couple of hours zig-zagging through scree and brush looking for a campsite, but there was nothing to be found. The slope of the mountain was far too steep to yield a comfortable resting spot. We tried yelling for Paul and got a response, but it was from somewhere very far off in the distance. Desperate, we headed lower and sure enough we found a delightful little meadow with a large collection of bones. We tried Paul one more time, and the response was much closer. After hefting our packs once more, we were quickly united with him in a small clearing just far enough into the trees to have been invisible from farther up on the mountain.

Our Shelter on Marble Mountain
Our Shelter on Marble Mountain

At this point, we set up our shelter and broke open the food and beer. I was delighted to learn while packing for this trip that New Belgium had just started putting Fat Tire into cans. This was quite the stroke of good fortune for backpacking. After several hours of eating, drinking, chatting, and relaxing we finally heard from Randy as he was making his way towards the camp under the cover of darkness. A few cell phone calls and a round or two fired into the air and Randy came bounding down the trail into camp. Not long thereafter, we went to sleep.

Pete on Rope in Frank's Nasty Pit

The next morning we all slept in and were a bit lazy. Because the cave was only a few hundred vertical feet above camp, even a long trip wouldn’t require a super early start. After everyone got up, ate breakfast, and double-checked all of the caving gear, we grabbed our packs and headed up to find the upper entrance, Frank’s Nasty Pit. Paul was hiking with the aid of an adventure umbrella for shade. Looking back down the hill as he trailed behind us, it was a bit as though Eliza from My Fair Lady was along on the trip. Paul would end up taking the umbrella along on the trip through the cave and of course it would break. If you think you need a caving umbrella, definitely choose the Go-Lite model. They replaced the broken umbrella with no questions asked! After a few more minutes, we located the upper entrance to the Spanish Cave system. Frank’s Nasty Pit is pretty small, and Paul was a bit worried that I wouldn’t fit into the cave. We had all donned vertical gear in anticipation of the rappel immediately beyond the entrance, but I ended up taking off my harness just in case the entrance proved too tight. That proved to be unnecessary, and putting the harness back on in the tight little room was extra challenging. After a short little drop, we regrouped in the registry room and prepared for the big rappel. This one used about 200 feet of static line with about half of the drop being a free-hanging rappel. At the bottom of the rappel, we stripped off the vertical gear and stowed it into our packs. If all went well, we would emerge from the lower entrance and hike back up to Frank’s Nasty Pit to retrieve the ropes.

The initial cave passage was rather warm. Although it was already the first weekend of August, the lower cave entrance had just recently melted out of the snow. It was a hot day, and a strong wind was traveling in through the upper entrance and exiting via the lower entrance. We knew from our scouting trip the day before that the air leaving Spanish Cave was exceptionally cold, so we expected things to get much colder soon.

Of the 4 of us, Paul was the only one to have made the Spanish Cave through trip; however, he had never traversed the cave in this direction. It turned out that we had a relatively easy trip through the cave, in terms of route finding, but several dangerous moves were required. Most of the caving was difficult, but reasonably secure. We also lucked out in discovering that the ice which typically forms just inside the lower Spanish Cave entrance was essentially non-existent. This made one very dangerous traverse much less risky. On the way out of the cave, I used a small Brunton Weather Station to record the temperature of the cave. The indicator was still dropping when I started to become hypothermic, so I wedged the strat into the ceiling, crawled towards the exit, and left the thermometer behind to equilabrate. About 15 minutes later, with nice warm hands, I crawled back into the cave and retrieved the digital thermometer. About 34 degrees Farenheit! I wasn’t able to get a wind speed reading as the vane had frozen in place, but it was blowing pretty swiftly. I’m certain the wind chill would have dropped the apparent temperature far lower.

It would have been nice to crash back at the campsite and relax, but unfortunately Pete and I both had to be back early on Sunday. Therefore, we packed up camp and again shouldered our heavy packs. We were pretty tired, but we timed the hike about right and reached the Jeep just as things were beginning to get too dark to hike without fetching headlamps from our packs. Despite losing the trail a couple of times and having to negotiate a couple of stream crossings, the hike down was pretty easy and quick. It felt great to put on some dry socks and shoes and eat a few more calories before driving back to Boulder.

Dave’s Sprained Ankle

Sprained Ankle, The First Night
Sprained Ankle, The First Night

I’m learning a lot about what an actual ankle injury is really like. After a fun, if short, ice climbing season, Jess and I were climbing at The Spot, our local bouldering gym, when I fell from near the top of one of the boulders. It was a pretty typical fall and shouldn’t have resulted in an injury, but I managed to land on the very corner of one of the big crash pads. Instead of landing on my amply-padded butt, my right foot stuck to the mat and twisted underneath me as I rolled off to the side. It was immediately clear that this was way more than your typical twisted ankle.

I took some Advil after getting back home and put some ice on my ankle, but it was obvious the next morning that I couldn’t go to work. I couldn’t even put any weight onto my ankle. Instead I hopped around the house as I tried to make an appointment to see an orthopedist. Jess was able to pick me up in the afternoon and drive me into Boulder where I hopped up the stairs and into the doctor’s office. After a little ribbing about not having crutches, nor having been to the ER the night before, they x-rayed my leg to look for breaks. As it turns out, I was free of broken bones, but I’d clearly badly injured my ankle. The doctor prescribed this brace for three weeks followed by a few weeks of physical therapy.

After about 6-8 weeks, I was finally moving around pretty well, but the ankle is still a little weak and prone to aggravation. It’s a little sad that the injury resulted from such a mundane fall, but I guess some stories just aren’t as good as others.

Bathroom Overhaul!

The Original Vinyl Shower Surround
The Original Vinyl Shower Surround

Wow!  Have you ever set out to tackle a home improvement project and felt like you were trundling a large boulder off a steep cliff?  (Actually illegal in Colorado)  Well, we certainly have.  We’d been planning to replace the cheap vinyl shower enclosure in our upstairs bathroom for some time, and a convergence of guests arriving around the July 4th holiday seemed like the perfect deadline/excuse for the task.  I insisted on starting about a month before our guests were to arrive, but Jess was certain that this was far more “contingency” time than could possibly be required.  How wrong she was!

Of course, if the project’s scope had remained constant, Jess would have been correct, but this project, like so many others, developed a life of its own. As we began the demolition, crossing the point-of-no-return, it became apparent that we were in for more than just tiling the shower enclosure.

Just Past the Point of no Return
Just Past the Point of no Return

We began by disassembling the existing hot/cold faucets and the tub filler sport. With the hardware out of the way, we turned our attention to the 3-piece vinyl shower enclosure. Grabbing the enclosure by the outside corners we quickly tore it away from the wall in large pieces.  The vinyl had become brittle and cracked in several places as it was pried from the underlying drywall.  Once the surround had been removed we took to the existing drywall with sledge hammers and fists, quickly filling the little room with dust and debris. Before too much time had passed we were rewarded with a lovely view of the interior walls surrounding our bathtub.

Next we prepped the walls for the tile by wrapping the entire wall with asphalt roofing paper.  The paper was applied in two long sheets that overlapped by several inches at the middle and fastened to the studs with an industrial staple gun. We marked the location of the studs on the roofing paper and cut and hung several sheets of 1/2″ Hardibacker directly to the studs. The tile I had selected was a rather heavy glazed porcelain available in several colors from Lowes and the backer board was essential if the new walls were to be capable of supporting the heavy tile work. After hanging the backer board, it was apparent that the new walls did not match up with the existing walls. This was due in part to our attempts to fix the terribly out-of-plumb walls and the faux plaster texture on the existing walls. Because of these two problems we decided to replace the remainder of the two walls adjacent the shower enclosure, and we stripped the faux texture from the wall opposite the shower. A couple of hours of additional demolition work, another trip to Home Depot, and a precarious drive home with several sheets of 1/2″ green board tied to the roof of Taco (our 2000 Dodge Neon), and we were ready to replace the drywall.

Four Tiles Down and About a Thousand to Go!
Four Tiles Down and About a Thousand to Go!

Of course, about this time we realized that we should really add a ceiling fan/overhead light to the bathroom.  For some reason the bathroom has never had any ventilation, and in the winter, this really causes problems.  The bathroom becomes extremely steamy and when the door open it sets of smoke detectors all over the house. While it’s nice to test the smoke detectors from time-to-time, 6:30 in the morning isn’t a universally accepted time!

The floor in the bathroom has always been an embarrassingly dingy black and white vinyl tile affair, and occasional leaks have brought water into the kitchen via the ceiling.  We knew that this was the proper time to do something with the floor, so about 6

Cutting Away the Water Damaged Subfloor
Cutting Away the Water Damaged Subfloor

additional trips to Home Depot and Lowes solidified a design that would use 12″ x 12″ glazed porcelain tiles that matched the tiles used in the shower enclosure.  Of course, when we removed the toilet and vanity, we discovered that the years of sloppy shower taking and the poorly constructed floor had led to extensive

water damage.  There was no way that we could simply ignore the problem, so a jigsaw and eventually a sawzall was needed to remove all of the rotten subfloor, and a patch was cut to size from 3/4″ plywood.  The patch actually spanned 2 floor joists and was pretty solid, but some additional support was necessary where the new subfloor met the existing subfloor at the edge of the tub.  A 2×4 was cut to span the joint and screwed into the existing subfloor on either side of the patch.  The new patch was then fastened to the 2×4 in order to provide some additional support.  A final touch was the liberal use of leveling compound to further repair the damaged subfloor.

After the leveling compound was dry, we attached 2 sheets of 1/4″ thick Hardibacker to the subfloor.  A cut-out for the closet flange (toilet drain) was made in one of the pieces of backer board, and the 2nd piece was trimmed slightly to match the small bathroom footprint.  Additional cuts were necessary for the hot and cold supply lines that energe from the floor under the vanity. The backer board was positioned perpendicular to the patch in the subfloor in order to add additional stability.

Jess Checks Out the Water Damage
Jess Checks Out the Water Damage

After the subfloor had been repaired and prepped for tile, the rest of the floor was actually quite easy. The large (12″ square) tiles we chose for the floor were very quick to install, and only a few needed to be cut on the wet saw. At that point, we installed the new combination vent/fan and grouted the shower enclosure and floor. After a couple of days, we were able to walk on the floor again, so we were right back to work taping the drywall and prepping everything for a nice paint job. Jess helped me pick out a nice tan color that complimented the tile design, and the Home Depot color computer picked out something vaguely whitish to go with the main color. I was pretty tired of being in the bathroom by this point, so Jess finished most of the painting, and in a nick of time. The day before the first of our July 4th guests were due to arrive, we scrambled to install the new vanity and sink in order to have a fully functional bathroom. Even with all of our hard work, we weren’t quite able to finish on time. We ran into some difficulties getting the new sink drain to align with the old p-trap and had to get creative with some flexible plumbing, and the sink wasn’t yet glued to the top of the vanity. We also hadn’t painted the ceiling either, but at least you could shower, and the bathroom looked a thousand times better.

The New Vanity, Floor, and Towel Bar
The New Vanity, Floor, and Towel Bar
The New Shower Tile
The New Shower Tile

Welcome

Jess & Dave
Jess and Dave Gribble in front of Ouray Mountain Sports (the original location). The store has since moved down the street, but the hours remain somewhat flexible.

Welcome to the online home of Jess and Dave Gribble. We have quite a few things to tell you about, so return to our website soon. We’ll be sharing some pictures and stories from climbing, caving, mountain biking, and backpacking. We’ve even been remodeling our bathroom and trying out our hands on some DIY car repair. I’m sure you’ll find all of the details thrilling.

Best Wishes,
Dave Gribble